The Silent Auction Fundraiser

A silent auction fundraiser provides a fantastic fundraising method that can be done standalone, or as part of another fundraising event.

And it'll raise BIG funds - if done effectively by following the steps down below!

So How Does It Work?

Unlike a live auction where an auctioneer vocally auctions off items one by one...

A silent auction works with items being displayed out on tables, and bids being placed on a bid sheet next to each item. At closing time, the highest bid wins the item.

Pretty simple concept.

Want to learn how to run a profitable and successful Silent Auction Fundraiser?!? (Photo by Tulane Public Relations / Flickr)

(FREE) Featured Training: Learn how to raise more funds from your silent auctions with 5 simple changes. (Click here for the free training.)

But How Do You Raise Big Funds?

Firstly understand that to raise big funds you will need a lot of items (or fewer but high-end items) and a large amount of people to bid on them.

So finding enough of the right items, and promoting the auction, are the two most important aspects!

And then you will need to plan, organize and execute the Silent Auction Fundraiser smoothly and effectively.

And Take Note That...

An auction gets easier and more successful every year that you run it.

Merchants and bidders become familiar with it as it grows in popularity (meaning more and easier to find items, and increase in attendees and bidders), and you, simply through practice, get better at organizing it properly.

So if you intend to run a silent auction fundraiser, plan to do it for a few years to fulfill it's potential.

Let's get into the steps for success...

Successful Silent Auction Fundraiser Steps:

1. Is a Silent Auction Right For You?

The first thing to do, is to actually decide whether a silent auction is right for your organization, the resources you have, and your fundraising needs.

Although the rewards are really great, a silent auction fundraiser takes a lot of organization and is very work intensive.

So before you run off to do this fundraiser, you need to carefully consider your resources and time available, and make sure the returns will be worth the effort put in.


2. Setup a Silent Auction Committee:

The Auction Committee's first and most important job is to find auction items. So, you will need a strong auction committee of at least 10 plus people who are willing to go out and solicit items from friends, family, and stores.

Equip them with material to help with soliciting items (flyers, brochures, event invitations, etc.) and hold regular meetings to encourage and track progress.

At different stages of organizing your event you will need to delegate other organizing jobs to committee members and ensure that all aspects of the auction are covered.

Here are some things you and your committee will need to have organized...

  • Enough top quality auction items.
  • A venue.
  • Tables and decor.
  • Snacks and refreshments.
  • An Emcee, a microphone and DJ/music for ambiance.
  • Volunteers for the event.
  • Promotions and promotional material.
  • Bidding Material (ie: Bidding sheets and pens).
  • Create and print an auction item guide book.
  • Online auction website management and promotions (if applicable).
  • Auction checkout and payment processes.
  • Delivery process for uncollected items.
  • Thanking of auction item donors and event sponsors.

3. Recruit Volunteers

Depending on the size of the silent auction fundraiser you may not have enough committee members to do all the jobs needed - especially during the auction - and may need to recruit volunteers.

SO... Create a list of jobs needed to be done and make sure that you have enough volunteers to cover them. Assign those jobs to your volunteers and ensure that they are fully trained, briefed and equipped to complete the job/s.

You will potentially need volunteers for...

  • Setting up,
  • Ushers,
  • Waiters,
  • Auction table monitors,
  • To help with the Checkout,
  • And packing letters for item donation requests, promotions, and thank yous.
  • Amongst other unforeseeables.

4. Acquire Auction Items:

As I've already said, having enough top quality auction items is the first and most important aspect to your auction's success!

So get your committee equipped and out there finding items.

I'd suggest you put together a list of all local and further afield merchants, stores and entertainment venues - that you can send a Auction Item Donation Request Letter to - and that can be split up and assigned to different members of your committee for follow ups.

Here are some business types that can provide some great auction items...

  • Hotels, salons, spas, and retreats.
  • Travel booking and guide stores.
  • Restaurants and pubs.
  • Golf courses and other sporting venues.
  • Sports teams.
  • Hardware stores, electronic stores, and other retailers.
  • Essentially any merchant or retailer that will have products or services your bidders will be interested in.

Another great idea for auction items is to put together gift baskets (or ask retailers to put them together). Check out this awesome list of Silent Auction Gift Basket Ideas.

For more auction item ideas check out...

Silent Auction Fundraising Items don't necessarily have to be physical products but can be discounts, gift cards, and tickets etc. (Photo by Kaytee Riek / Flickr)

Donation Request Letter...

You'll need to write a great item donation request letter that...

  • Explains your donation request,
  • Who and what your organization is and does,
  • What the fundraiser is specifically for and what impact it will make,
  • And how someone can make a donation.
  • Plus have a PS that explains how people can make a general donation to the cause if they can't donate an auction item.

Remember to connect emotionally with the potential donor and emmerse them in the vision of your cause and fundraiser.

For great tips and templates on writing fundraising letters read here. Also take a moment to read this awesome article from Gail Perry on Turning your fundraising letters from "Organization-Centered" to "Donor-Centered."

Track Item Donations...

It is exceptionally important, and will save you heaps of work at the end of the auction, to carefully track each donated item.

Create a spreadsheet that records the following details: Item name, description, item donor, donor contact info, donor promotional write up/info, item value, starting bid, and incremental value (if assigned already).

You should also assign each item a number for easy reference and make sure you tag the item with the number before you store it away.

5. Promote Event:

As we've discussed, the more people you have competing on item bids, the more the items will auction for, and the more funds you will raise!

So it's ultimately important that you successfully promote your silent auction fundraiser, to attract a large number of registered bidders.

If your Silent Auction Fundraiser is part of a larger event then most of your promotional focus will be at the event, but if it's a standalone fundraiser than you will need to put in more pre-event promotional effort.

Look through these fundraising promotional ideas for ways to market your auction.

6. Open Bidding & Registration Online:

This is optional... But I highly recommend you setup an online auction website to take pre-event registrations and open up the bidding.

There are many benefits to doing this...

  • You have an online presence to promote your auction from.
  • Auction items and item lists gain exposure before the event.
  • It's an easy process for bidders to register and get a start with bidding on the items they want.
  • People who can't attend the event can still have the opportunity to bid on items.
  • Increase the bidding value of items before the live event starts as people begin their bidding online.
  • Print pre-populated bid sheets out (with bids that have already been made online) for the live event. It's a great feature that gets the bidding at the live auction rolling!
  • Etc. Etc.

I recommend you use DoJiggy Auction Software to setup your Online Auction Website. Click through to read up on their services and features, and to start a 14 day FREE trial.

And go here for more info on Online Auctions and here for my advice on how to setup an Online Auction.

7. Print Out Bidding Material:

Have all your bidding material and item guide brochures printed in good time before the event...

Unless of course you decide to start your silent auction fundraiser online. Then you'll need to print out your bid sheets after you've closed the online bidding (ie: the night before the live silent auction starts).

If you have used DoJiggy for your online auction, then you won't need to design bid sheets and can print them directly off your online auction software from DoJiggy.

Silent auction Bid Sheet samples can be found here...

8. Setup Tables & Items:

Want to learn how to run one of those super profitable Silent Auction Fundraisers? (Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr)

The presentation and placing of your items and tables is super important in a very subtle and subconscious way.

  • First of all, first appearances leave a lasting impression and you want to strike the right note when people enter your silent auction.
  • Secondly you should have clear sections to help guide bidders to products that they will be interested in.
  • And lastly the flow of traffic through your displays will have a major effect on bidding.

If it's easy for people to move from display table to table and not become crowded on the way, or at a table - it will be far easier for them to view the items and make bids on them. The opposite effect will happen if tables are too close together and it's hard to move around.

So keep this in mind when deciding and organizing your silent auction decor, display and table arrangements.

9. On the Day/s:

There are a few points you need to remember and consider for when running your event...

  • On top of the item display tables you will need a bidder registration area and also the auction checkout area (can be the same place).
  • Bidders should be welcomed courteously and shown where the different item sections are, where closing times are displayed, where the auction checkout is, and where to register.
  • Your Emcee (if applicable) should keep the mood of the auction light, and continually encourage people to bid and highlight popular items or items that need a bit of extra promoting.
  • Some of your Volunteers should be assigned to Monitor tables and bidding - To ensure no cheating occurs, minimum and incremental bid guidelines are maintained, to collect bid sheets at closing time, and to answer any questions.

10. Close Bidding & Auction Checkout:

You should absolutely close off bidding one section at a time. What this does is it creates a sense of urgency for last minute bidding on each section, one at a time.

This means that each individual can put focus on final bids on each section when their time comes up - And will then be able to place final bids on all sections instead of only one if everything had to close at the same time.


Your checkout process and system should then make it easy for people to claim, pay for, and collect their auction items. Think and plan this through carefully.

You must also have a plan and process in place for getting payment from and delivering items to winners who are not around at closing and checkout time.

11. Thank Donors & Sponsors:

After the event you should thank all item donors and event sponsors via a Thank You Letter and via a Phone Call.

Building strong relationships with these donors will be hugely valuable to the future success of your Silent Auction Fundraiser...

And one of the most important steps to building strong relationships is to show true gratitude and appreciation for a donors contribution! So that's why a letter and a phone call.

You must also make those Thank Yous as personal as possible. Really connect with the donor and make them feel super important to your fundraiser!

You must also thank your committee and volunteers properly!

12. And Finally - Celebrate:

You, your committee, and volunteers would have put in a huge amount of work and effort come the end of your silent auction fundraiser...

And you deserve to celebrate your success.

So have a small celebratory get together after the event to show appreciation to all involved.

I wish you all the best of luck for you Silent Auction Fundraiser.

(FREE) Featured Training: Learn how to raise more funds from your silent auctions with 5 simple changes. (Click here for the free training.)

Additional Reading & Resources:

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